Clare Blackburn (FRSE)

Professor of Tissue Stem Cell Biology


BSc Biological Sciences (Hons Molecular Biology), University of Edinburgh, 1984 

PhD Biochemistry, Imperial College of Science and Technology, London, 1991

Wellcome Trust Fellow, Walter and Eliza Hall Institute for Medical Research, Melbourne, Australia, 1991-1994

Wellcome Trust Fellow, Univeristy of Oxford, 1995-1997

Wellcome Trust Fellow, University of Edinburgh, 1997-2000

Leukaemia Research Fund Fellow then Leukaemia Research Fund Lecturer, University of Edinburgh, 2001-2011

Personal Chair 2011

Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh 2015

Responsibilities & affiliations

Director of the Graduate School of Biological Sciences 2009-2013; 2017-present

Undergraduate teaching

BSc Biological Sciences

Development, Regeneration and Stem Cells Honours

  • Course organiser and lecturer: Tissue and Cancer Stem Cells elective (DEBI10035)
  • Lecturer: Biology of Regeneration elective (DEBI10032)

Immunology Honours

  • Course organiser and lecturer: Stem Cells, Haematopoiesis and Immune Therapy elective (IMMU10011)
  • Lecturer:  Immunobiology core course (IMMU10001)

Genetics/ Molecular Genetics/ Molecular Biology/ Cell Biology Honours 

  • Lecturer: Synoptic Skills (MOGE10007)

BSc Biomedical Sciences

  • Lecturer: Regenerative Medicine (BIME10017)

Postgraduate teaching

Academic lead: EASTBIO BBSRC Doctoral Training Partnership

Open to PhD supervision enquiries?


Past PhD students supervised

Paul Rouse

Dong Liu

Harsh Vaidya

Svetlana Ulyanchenko

Xin Jin

Michelle Kelly

Nick Bredenkamp

Alistair Cook

Alison Farley

Julie Sheridan

Lucy Morris

Craig Nowell

Julie Gordon

Clare Bennett

Research summary

Thymus generation and regeneration

The Blackburn lab studies the mechanisms through which the thymus develops and is maintained. We investigate the biology of thymic epithelial progenitor/stem cells and the cellular and molecular mechanisms that maintain the postnatal organ with the aim of developing rational cell replacement or regenerative strategies for boosting thymus function in order to stimulate T cell production in patients.

The Blackburn lab studies three major strands of thymus biology: development, maintenance and age-related degeneration. We are particularly interested in the regulation of epithelial progenitor/stem cells in the fetal and adult thymus. Our overarching aim is to restore thymus function in immunocompromised patients, using cell replacement or regenerative strategies based on fundamental science. We co-discovered the population of fetal tissue stem/progenitor cells from which the thymus arises during development, and demonstrated that this population can establish a properly organized, fully functional thymus upon transplantation. Recently, we showed that manipulation of a single transcription factor is sufficient to regenerate the aged thymus, even when the organ has fully degenerated. Prof Blackburn is also coordinator of the EU funded project ThymiStem.

Clare Blackburn also has a strong interest in public engagement. She leads the pan-European project EuroStemCell which links more than 90 European stem cell and regenerative medicine research labs to engage with publics about stem cell science and medicine. She has a personal interest in the use of film as a tool for public engagement in science, and has co-produced 7 documentary films including the feature-length ‘Stem Cell Revolutions’. In 2012, she was awarded the University’s Tam Dalyell Prize for Public Engagement, together with Dr Amy Hardie (Edinburgh College of Art).

Affiliated research centres

Current project grants

Blackburn, C.C., Anderson, G., Chapman, S.J., Holländer, G., Lütolf, M. Wellcome Trust Collaborative Award. Engineering a Synthetic Thymus. £3.6M, 2019-2023

View all 68 publications on Research Explorer

Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council


European Union

Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research

Medical Research Council

Wellcome Trust

Prof Graham Anderson, University of Birmingham

Professor Georg Hollander, University of Oxford

Professor Jon Chapman, University of Oxford

Professor Matthias Lütolf, EPFL, Lausanne

Prof Nancy Manley, University of Georgia, Athens, USA